2012 NFL Playoffs: Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers Preview and Pick
The Green Bay Packers march into San Francisco to take on the 49ers in the divisional round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs on Saturday night. They’ll have two things on their mind, to avenge a week one loss to the same 49ers team, and to avoid coming out flat like they did at home against the New York Giants in the playoffs last year.
Green Bay handles the Minnesota Vikings easily at home last week, and enters this week as one of the hotter teams in the league. Despite San Francisco controlling the week one game, the Packers actually still had a chance to force overtime, and lost just 30-22. That tells me that if Green Bay can be closer to it’s ‘A’ game, we’ll be in for d go fight, and the Packers just might be the favorites.
On the flip-side, these 49ers look a little bit different. The switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick under center makes the team more dynamic and less predictable, but there’s also concern about a few games where Kaepernick really didn’t move the offense that well. Is this a week where Kaep and co. light it up, or the second-year passer shows his growing pains?
Let’s dive into this with three keys to the game for both sides:
1. Green Bay Must Protect Aaron Rodgers
I’m not even going to say Rodgers needs to be at his best to win, because he doesn’t. He just needs to be protected enough to be good. In week one, Rodgers was pressured non-stop, and it affected him. As good as he generally is, he can be pretty sloppy when not protected, and his pocket presence can turn to mush. The Packers are getting a bit of a break with Justin Smith not being close to 100%, but they still have to worry about Aldon Smith. As long as they keep the 49ers’ rush at bay for the majority of the game, Rodgers should be able to pick them apart.
2. DuJuan Harris Has to do Something
He doesn’t have to run for 100 yards or four touchdowns, but he has to move the ball, pick up the blitz, and do enough to take the pressure off of Green Bay’s passing game. The 49ers want to pound the rock and control the clock at home, too, so if the Packers do it first and more effectively, that could easily translate into a win. Harris is the most fluid runner on the Packers roster right now, and he gives them the best chance to move the ball on the ground against a tough San Francisco run defense. His main issue is flat-out execution in this game. If he plays like he’s been playing, the Packers will be in good shape.
3. Make Colin Kaepernick Beat You With His Arm
I know Kaepernick has some serious upside, and we’ve seen him take over completely twice (against the Bears and Patriots), but there is still something there that isn’t polished enough about him. Green Bay’s defense is no slouch, and with Charles Woodson back, they could give Kaep some real trouble. If they can step up and snuff out Frank Gore and the ground game, and/or if Rodgers and co. can jump out to an early lead, it will put all the pressure on Kaep to win this game. If he’s feeling the heat, I’m betting he doesn’t respond all that well in his first career playoff game.
1. Run the Ball and Control the Clock
I’m slightly concerned the 49ers will actually come out throwing with Kaepernick, but if they want to win, they have to rely on their bread and butter: their defense and their ground game. Frank Gore chewed up and spit out the Green Bay run defense the last time these two sides met, and if the 49ers make that their focus, he can certainly do it again. Adding Lamichael James to the mix can only help, too. The more the 49ers have the ball, the less Aaron Rodgers does, and time keeps ticking away. It’s easier said than done, but that has to be goal numero undo for the 49ers tonight.
2. Take Some Shots
In the name of Randy Moss, this offense needs to take more chances. Kaepernick no doubt makes them more dynamic, but we’re still not seeing the offense get spread out like he’s capable of doing. Randy Moss may be a shell of his former self, but that still doesn’t excuse not even trying to go deep with him, like ever. He loves facing a team he hates in the Packers, so that could pay off, two fold. If the 49ers want to keep up with a determined Packers team, they’ll have to make some big plays.
3. Paging Vernon Davis
Six catches in six games is just not enough. I know Davis has been double covered by the opposition, but the 49ers have got to do a better job on getting arguably their best offensive play-maker the ball. If they’re not willing or able to go deep with Moss above, then they have to make their star tight end a huge part of their game plan when it comes to the air. Davis has been invisible for about half the year now, and has zero chemistry with Colin Kaepernick. With Mario Manningham gone, that’s going to have to change quickly if the 49ers are going to move on in the playoffs.
I’m a Packers fan and it could be a homer pick, but in the end I see two good defenses and a Packers offense that is far better than San Francisco’s. The 49ers have a major edge playing at home, but they’ve been very sloppy at times on both sides of the ball this year, compared to last. Their vaunted run defense is still one of the best in the league, but they’ve actually been torched a few times this year, and are much more beatable than they look on paper. I also find it hard to believe the same team can have their way with a quarterback as good as Aaron Rodgers twice in one year. San Francisco came into Green Bay and embarrassed the Packers in week one, and I’ve got a feeling Green Bay will return the favor in the second round of the playoffs.